Leaks from natural gas drilling, shipping and storage are one of the main sources of methane emissions in the United States.CreditCreditBrennan Linsley/Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration laid out on Thursday a far-reaching plan to cut back on theregulation of methane emissions, a major contributor to climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule aims to eliminate federal requirements that oil and gas companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage facilities. It would also reopen the question of whether the E.P.A. had the legal authority to regulate methane as a pollutant.
The rollback plan is particularly notable because major energy companies have, in fact, spoken out against it — joining automakers, electric utilities and other industrial giants that have opposed other administration initiatives to dismantle climate-change and environmental rules.
The weakening of the methane standard is the latest in the march of environmental-policy rollbacks by the Trump administration designed to loosen regulations on industry.
Environmental advocates described the proposal as a major setback in the effort to fight climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. MORE
A new study finds that shale oil and gas is behind the global rise in methane pollution over the past decade, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The study, published in Biogeosciences, was able to separate methane emissions from conventional versus unconventional drilling, as well as methane from other “biogenic” sources, such as agriculture or wetlands. “This recent increase in methane is massive,” Robert W. Howarth of Cornell University, the author of the study, said in a statement. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen and shale gas is a major player.”
Methane emissions rose in the late 20th century, and then leveled off in the early 2000s. “Since 2008, however, methane concentrations have again been rising rapidly,” Howarth wrote.
Howarth said that “chemical fingerprints” in the atmosphere point to shale oil and gas, as the methane from unconventional drilling has less carbon-13 relative to carbon-12, which distinguishes it from methane coming from conventional sources, including from gas and coal. Because two-thirds of all new natural gas production over the last decade has come from shale, and because the chemical composition of methane in the atmosphere has changed, Howarth concluded that shale gas is a key driver in the increase of methane.
Prior research did not explicitly focus on the fossil fuel industry, and instead put blame on other sources of methane emissions, such as agriculture and wetlands.
“Previous studies erroneously concluded that biological sources are the cause of the rising methane,” Howarth said. He was able to separate out the source of the increase. The conclusion was clear: “The commercialization of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions.”
Methane is a dramatically more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although it is much more short-lived. That makes it a dangerous greenhouse gas pollutant – but also low-hanging fruit for climate action. “If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate,” he said. “It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.” MORE
A Cornell-Environmental Defense Fund research team equipped a Google Street View car with a high-precision methane sensor and found methane emissions from ammonia fertilizer plants to be 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry’s self-reported estimate. Photo: Cornell University
Emissions of methane from the industrial sector have been vastly underestimated, researchers from Cornell and Environmental Defense Fund have found.
Using a Google Street View car equipped with a high-precision methane sensor, the researchers discovered that methane emissions from ammonia fertilizer plants were 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry’s self-reported estimate. They also were substantially higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate for all industrial processes in the United States.
“We took one small industry that most people have never heard of and found that its methane emissions were three times higher than the EPA assumed was emitted by all industrial production in the United States,” said John Albertson, co-author and professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It shows us that there’s a huge gap between a priori estimates and real-world measurements.”
The researchers’ findings are reported in “Estimation of Methane Emissions From the U.S. Ammonia Fertilizer Industry Using a Mobile Sensing Approach,” published May 28 in Elementa. The work was funded in part by a grant from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future’s joint research program with EDF.
The use of natural gas has grown in recent years, bolstered by improved efficiency in shale gas extraction and the perception that natural gas is a less dirty fossil fuel.
“But natural gas is largely methane, which molecule-per-molecule has a stronger global warming potential than carbon dioxide,” Albertson said. “The presence of substantial emissions or leaks anywhere along the supply chain could make natural gas a more significant contributor to climate change than previously thought.”
To date, methane emissions have been assessed at a variety of sites—from the well pads where natural gas is extracted to the power plants and municipal pipelines downstream. MORE
This is huge. “If nothing else, the biggest polluters, and the biggest cheaters, will be exposed. No company, no country, will be able to hide or fudge its numbers. The public will know how to find them.” A quote from the RELATED posting below. It’s well worth reading also.
Pressure on companies to disclose emissions is intensifying
Latest sensors can detect leaks from a single well or pipeline
European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite.Source: ESA/ATG Medialab
A wave of satellites set to orbit the Earth will be able to pinpoint producers of greenhouse gases, right down to an individual leak at an oil rig.
More than a dozen governments and companies have or are planning to launch satellites that measure concentrations of heat-trapping gases such as methane, which is blamed for about one quarter of man-made global warming. They are looking to track nations, industries, companies and even individual facilities to identify some of the biggest contributors to climate change.
“Space-based technologies are allowing us for the first time to quickly and cheaply measure greenhouse gases,” said Mark Brownstein, a senior vice president at Environmental Defense Fund, which plans to launch its MethaneSAT in 2021. “Oftentimes both government and industry are not fully aware of the magnitude of the opportunity to cut emissions. With that data, they can take action.”
Regulators are taking note. California is partnering with Planet Labs Inc. on a satellite to help it “pinpoint individual methane plumes” from oil and gas facilities, as well as other sources such as landfills, dairies and waste water plants, Stanley Young, a spokesman for the state’s Air Resources Board, said in an email. Researchers have suggested that methane is underestimated in most inventories, he said.
California was the site of the largest natural gas leak in U.S. history in 2015 when a broken well outside Los Angeles owned by Sempra Energy released more than 100,000 tons of methane before being plugged, federal and university researchers said in a study published in Science the following year. The utility in August estimated costs associated with the leak at $1.01 billion.
The information may reinforce shareholder pressure on companies to disclose and reduce emissions. In September, Exxon Mobil Corp. joined the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which targets to cut aggregated upstream industry methane emissions by more than 20 percent by 2025, and Chevron Corp. said this year it plans to tie executive compensation to meeting emissions targets.
Leaks constitute energy that could otherwise be sold. Oil and gas firms can cut 40 to 50 percent of their methane emissions at no net cost, which in terms of climate impact, is the equivalent of shutting two-thirds of the coal-fired generation in Asia, according to Laura Cozzi, the International Energy Agency’s chief energy modeler. MORE